Dr Angharad Naylor is the Director of Learning and Teaching at the School of Welsh, a busy and important role at the best of times. Then a global health pandemic comes along and upends usual ways of working, demanding adaptations and innovative solutions in order to continue providing a quality academic experience while maintaining a sense of community – for staff and students alike.
Here, Angharad offers a personal and candid view on the challenges and opportunities of the last 12 months.
I started writing this blog with the intention of providing a relatively factual overview of teaching and learning experiences in recent months. But, as I started typing, the content became so much more personal than I was expecting – which, for me, is true to the journey I’ve been on since March of last year. The professional and the personal have knitted together by now and the experience of preparing, planning and teaching modules, of engaging with students, attending meetings, and leading on teaching and learning matters, has by necessity had to move to the very heart of my home.
It’s hard to believe that some ten months have passed since we moved, very quickly, to teaching and learning in such different situations and ways. Zoom, breakout rooms and the mute and share screen buttons have become firm friends – and sometimes, mortal enemies. But, they offer us the chance to meet with co-workers and students, to teach in new ways and to socialise – and all of this now taking place from my sofa, or the kitchen table, or a desk I’ve managed to squeeze into the corner of a room. Working from home was, and remains, a surreal experience.
As someone who enjoys wandering around the classroom when in teaching mode, it’s been a shock to the system to be confined to a box on a screen. Likewise, remaining behind the desk when delivering on-campus teaching has been a challenge and an adjustment. We’ve all – students and staff – welcomed each other into our homes and had to embrace new ways of working and communicating.
Continuing to learn and innovate
Live teaching online and on-campus sessions have provided us with opportunities to create communities in different ways. Corridor conversations have moved to the chat box and group working around a desk has become shared tasks online, digital quizzes and small group discussions. As someone who has experimented in recent years with ‘flipping’ teaching methods, these have now become integral to our teaching delivery. It’s been great to see such a positive reaction from students to the digital resources that have been developed within our modules.
The enthusiasm and camaraderie are equally as warm and there’s a clear appetite to learn and to experiment with different ways of using and applying knowledge. We’re very fortunate that our students were quick to adapt and have been so open to contribute and share ideas and experiences, in teaching scenarios but also informally.
Continuing to engage widely
We’ve continued to welcome a range of guest speakers to our professional and creative modules to share their expertise with the students and are grateful for their invaluable contributions. Students following our Yr Iaith ar Waith module enjoyed insights into fields such as marketing and communications, podcasting and digital media content creation, translation, research, and television production.
Translators, authors, poets and teachers have also contributed to sessions on our specialist modules and these types of engagements will continue through the spring. The screen as a medium has opened up new ways of working, presenting, teaching and thinking.
One of the strengths of the School of Welsh, and one of the things that sustains me as a member of staff, is the close-knit and friendly interaction between staff and students. It’s been wonderful to work with some of our new first year students as well as second and final year students, to support their studies but also to find ways of bringing us all together beyond the curriculum.
We have a very enthusiastic cohort of students in the second year who have set about creating a new digital magazine for the School. It’s an opportunity to share experiences and to write creative, funny and diverse articles. This work will continue to develop during the rest of this term.
The staff-student panels have continued to convene and plan social activities and support the student experience. We’ve had a number of quizzes, cooking challenges, decorating challenges and limerick competitions. I’m sure the fun and dynamism behind these activities will continue and sees us working hard to bring people together safely.
Continuing to progress and develop
The digital and blended learning approach we’ve adopted this year continues to present challenges and new experiences for us all. I, like many others I’m sure, long to walk the School corridors again, enjoy a chat over a cuppa, wander the classroom and open my office door to our fantastic students. Yet, while our homes are now offices, and our living rooms are study and social spaces, the collaboration and tutoring continues so that we can maintain the opportunities we offer our students.
I’m looking forward to further developing our provision, supporting our students and watching them move forwards on their learning journey.